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[personal profile] queenofchalices
Title: Moon Over the Tower: Chapter Six
Series: Bleach
Rating: R
Warnings: het (IchiHime), blood, scariness, religious topics. Should be read with the lights off.
Spoilers: This is AU. We don't need spoilers where we're going.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to a lot of Japanese people, namely people like Tite Kubo and Shonen Jump. You'll notice how none of those are me. The LiveJournal format that you'll probably be reading this in (if you're one of my friends) is rough draft and is subject to revision. Consider this a 'sneak peek'. If something sits the wrong way with you, let me know. This will probably (never) be updated weekly, until I eventually drop it like every other project ever. Not responsible for epileptic seizures or allergic reactions. May contain eye-and-brain-bleeding levels of radioactive ANGST and/or peanut products. Please sit a reasonable distance from your computer screen.


Handfuls of snow fluttered to the ground as peals of laughter rang through the chill air. As one girl ran laughing through the drifts, and another ran after her competitively, a pair of cinnamon brown eyes followed them keenly.

"Orihime, put your mittens on!"

"Come catch me, Tatsuki! Come catch me!"

Ichigo followed the laughing girls across the snowy courtyard with his eyes, watching them chase each other gleefully. He had never seen Tatsuki take to someone so easily. Even his own sisters were kept at arms length with her; she treated them just like her own little sisters or cousins, not like friends. And she and Rukia were both too stubborn and reserved to get on too well. It wasn't that they minded each other at all; they just had no reason to be close.

But now, this auburn-haired girl had come sweeping into their family estate, bringing light and laughter in her wake. Accommodating her had brought warmth into the cold castle, joy into the air, and activity into otherwise dead walls. And Ichigo was about to put an end to it.

He hoped Tatsuki wouldn't hate him for this. Oh, he'd given her plenty of reasons to hate him already, and he was sure this would be just one more. And he knew she'd yell at him for backing down on this, as well. But he'd rather live with his cowardice and Tatsuki's scorn than with hurting Orihime on his conscience.

He took a single step into the darkened, twilight courtyard. The snow crunched beneath his boot as he moved into the pool of light cast by the doorway. Before he could tell either girl his decision, though, a deep voice stopped him.


Ichigo turned to see Chad's large form standing behind him. His serious countenance melted immediately into one of polite curiosity.

"What is it, Chad?" he asked softly, not wanting to draw the girls' attention just yet.

"Last night," he said slowly, his deep voice gentle, "When we were at her house..." Ichigo's eyebrows rose. Had something happened while he was speaking with Orihime's sister? As Chad's pause lengthened, though, Ichigo's patience grew thinner.

"What?" he finally prompted his large friend. "Did something happen?" Chad raised a single finger silently before continuing.

"There was something there," he finished. Ichigo was at a total loss. "Something dangerous," the Spaniard said by way of explanation. Ichigo figured that was all he would say without further prompting, so he deliberated on the best way to get the relevant information out of him.

"Inside the house?" Ichigo finally led, a skeptical look on his face. He was terrible at sensing anything out of the ordinary, so much so that he usually relied on his manservants to alert him to any others like themselves in the area. As such, he needed to be told where exactly the threat was.

"No," Chad rumbled a response, "It was outside. Probably in the woods." Ichigo's countenance grew darker as he contemplated this information. If it was hiding in the woods, it obviously didn't want to be seen. Maybe it had good reason for that, but the reason was just as likely to be malicious.

"Do you think it was just passing through?" Ichigo asked warily, trying to include all options. Chad shook his shaggy, dark head.

"It stayed near the house the whole time," he replied, "It came nearer when you went inside. Like it was watching the house."

Ichigo didn't like this one bit. The fact that the other creature was lingering outside made him think that it had not been invited inside yet. While this was probably a good thing for Rangiku, it only remained so while she stayed inside the house. And the fact that something like that was watching Orihime's doorstep wasn't a comforting thought anyway.

There was something else, too. Vampires were mostly territorial; this land and its holdings had belonged to his family for ages. Whoever was out there may very well have been ignorant of the Kurosakis' claim to it; Ichigo and his servants rarely ventured into town or left traces of themselves anywhere, and the rest of his family had gone to Budapest years ago. But the fact that someone strange was on his land did not sit well with him. Neither did the fact that they seemed to be hovering over his human as well.

Ichigo cursed inwardly at that thought. When did Orihime become his human?

Shaking the thought away, Ichigo turned his glower back to Chad. As lord of the land, it was his duty to find whatever thing was out there and evict them as he saw fit. He would not allow another vampire to kill from his flock without his permission.

"We need to find it," he growled, "And find out what its intentions are. It doesn't belong here either way." Chad simply nodded.

Before the conversation could progress any further, though, Ichigo felt something cold and wet collide with the side of his head.

The snowball exploded on impact, leaving cold skin and a fine powdering of snow on Ichigo's jaw. He didn't flinch at all from the impact itself; he did jump at the surprise of being struck, though. As the ball fell to the ground and ice crystals began to form on his skin, he turned with wide eyes to see from whence it came.

"Oh no! Count Kurosaki, please forgive me!"

There, across the courtyard and heading toward him in a flurry of furs and skirts, was Orihime. Auburn hair floated around her in a cloud as tiny leather boots disturbed the powdery snow around them. Her cheeks and nose were rosy with the cold while her eyes shone with unshed tears of embarrassment. Any irritation Ichigo had felt at being pelted with the snowball was immediately washed away at the sight of her.

"I'm so sorry," she cried, bending over and gasping from the brief run, "I-I was aiming for Tatsuki and maybe the wind carried it off course, o-or snow fairies, and..." Ichigo shushed her with a hand on her shoulder. As she caught her breath and lifted her head, her wide amber eyes met Ichigo's. He gave her an awkward little smile.

"It's alright," he said gently, noting the way her whole face turned a charming pink, "I was just startled, that's all." Then, looking down, he noticed Orihime's hands were bare.

"Where are your gloves?" he asked as his mouth turned down in a little frown. He took her little red hands in his, nearly enveloping them. They were remarkably cold, even by his standards.

As Ichigo looked thoughtfully at her hands, Orihime's little mouth hung open slightly. At first she just looked somewhat flustered, but that soon gave way to confusion. She finally looked as though something important had just registered with her.

"I-I forgot them," she stammered, "But yours are like ice! Are you okay?" Ichigo's eyebrows arched at her inquiry. Finally, he realized his mistake; he'd been standing in the doorway for a while, and he had no gloves on either. His skin was now as cold as the snow laying on the ground, and he'd touched hers. She'd noticed his lack of body heat.

"I'm fine," he said quickly, trying to deflect any suspicion, "I've just been in the doorway a bit too long. Please don't worry yourself." But Orihime's expression was worried; she slipped her hands out of his, then covered them with her own. As she stepped determinedly into the adjacent sitting room, she tugged Ichigo along with her.

"This is why you should build more fires in here," she tutted, forgetting any embarrassment, "You'll catch your death like this!" Ichigo could feel color sluggishly rising to his cheeks.

"You were the one playing in the snow with no mittens," he fussed, surprised she would scold him. She always seemed so mild to him. Now she was pouting and fretting about him.

"That's different!" she protested, holding up her red hands, "See? They're already warming back up!" And with that, she planted them on either side of Ichigo's face.

"They feel hot because you were just outside in the snow," Ichigo responded with a scowl, pulling her hands from his cheeks, "You've probably got frostbite!" Orihime's eyes widened at his touch as she shook her head.

"I do not!" replied she, "Your skin turns white when you have frostbite!" By this point, she had pulled Ichigo beside the large fireplace in the dining room, which had stayed lit from Tatsuki and Orihime's lessons. Ichigo noticed and quirked an eyebrow at her.

"You're going to ruin your dress if you sit there," Ichigo murmured, watching the redheaded girl bend down to stoke the fire. Orihime sported her cute little blush as she rose and went to the dining room table. She pulled one of his high-backed chairs out and brought it to Ichigo. He simply sighed at her expectant look.

"Sit," he ordered her, "Ladies do not bring chairs to gentlemen." Orihime looked genuinely puzzled for a moment before Ichigo reached over and gently pushed her into the chair she'd just fetched. She was too startled to respond immediately, but as Ichigo turned to get one of his own, she finally spoke up.

"But... You're really cold!" she cried, "You need to sit down more than I do!" Her plaintive voice might have been moving, but Ichigo's face remained rigid. He took the nearest chair in one hand and brought it back to the fire, pulling it beside Orihime's.

"I'll sit here to warm up," he replied slowly, "But only if you sit as well." Orihime pouted at him as if she didn't like it, but was unsure whether to argue or not. Ichigo sighed; she was too well-meaning for her own good.

"But I..." she began before Ichigo silenced her by shaking his head.

"The servants can bring whatever we want," he reminded her, "You don't have to do everything yourself." Orihime looked down sheepishly at her lap.

"When my father arrives," Ichigo continued, "He'll be expecting a noblelady, Miss Inoue. Tatsuki is working on your formal manners, but you have to behave properly the rest of the time he's around, too." Orihime was twisting her skirt between her hands now. Ichigo watched her, feeling a pang of conscience at her ashamed expression.

"I'm sorry," she said softly, "I'll try to be more ladylike." Ichigo's eyelids lowered, lashes fanning across his cheeks. She sounded absolutely mortified. To try and defuse some of the tension, he reached over and took one of Orihime's hands. She gasped quietly when he touched her, his skin still much cooler than it should've been. But there was something more to her tone - a wince.

"Does it hurt?" he asked softly. He gently massaged her little hands, marveling at their softness and pulsing warmth. For the first time that night, he was aware of her heartbeat and of the blood flowing through her precious veins. He realized that her thick clothes had been keeping her pulse hidden from view. Ichigo offered silent thanks to Tatsuki for bundling her up like that; it brought him a measure of relief from his often chaotic thoughts.

Orihime whimpered pitifully as his fingers kneaded hers. He had figured she'd feel some pain from the cold, but it fascinated him that warming her hands up again would be the cause of it.

"So you were getting frostbite after all," he mumbled, casting his serious gaze at her red fingers.

"I-It doesn't hurt," she protested softly. Ichigo knew better, though. She was a horrible liar.

Her pain irritated him. He hated it. Even though she was just a human, and he knew he shouldn't care, it made him angry to see her hurt. And even though he wouldn't act on it or admit it to her, it even made him a little angry at her, too. But even as dense as Ichigo could be, even he knew it would be counter-productive to make her feel worse about being in pain.

Still, as he massaged the warmth back into her fingers, he realized that he couldn't send her away now. With the new information Chad had given him, he had a reason to let her stay that his rational mind could agree with. But he also realized with an inward wince that if he couldn't even stand watching her get a little too cold, there was no way he'd be able to send her into the path of another of his kind.

Ichigo told himself that he was just being territorial when he felt his anger flare at the thought. But that didn't explain why he was frustrated over her hands. He huffed out a sigh. He couldn't send her away, but he didn't know what he was actually going to do with her.

"Miss Inoue," he said quietly, "Please listen to Tatsuki next time." Orihime nodded shyly in response. Feeling he'd already scolded her enough, Ichigo decided to move on to another topic. "Have you eaten yet tonight?"

"Ah, n-no," she answered shyly, "I wanted to play in the snow before we ate." This gave Ichigo a small smile; there was something charming about the way she admitted she'd rather play than eat.

"I'll call Kurotsuchi, then," he replied, "We'll get you heated up and fed." His voice was soft and warmer than usual. Orihime's light blush did not go unnoticed.

It didn't go unnoticed by the pair hovering before the now-closed patio door, either. Chad watched the two redheads calmly while Tatsuki brushed the powdery snow off her shoulders with a huff.

"Those two," Tatsuki whispered playfully, "I leave them alone for two seconds and they're already making kissy faces at each other." Chad looked down at her, raising one brown eyebrow.

"That's good, though," he observed. Tatsuki shook herself out of her coat before hanging it beside the door.

"Yeah, it is," she agreed quietly. The tall Spaniard's expression barely changed, but a hint of curiosity flickered across his face.

"You aren't upset?" he asked. Chad always did have a penchant for getting straight to the point. Tatsuki simply shook some melting snow crystals from her hair.

"No," she said, "I like Orihime. She's been able to get through to him in a week more than I could in a year. And it isn't like she's taking anything away from me, anyway."

Chad said nothing. Instead, he gave Tatsuki an understanding nod. He knew very well what she was referring to.

It was something that none of the men in the house would address directly, even though they all knew about it. How could they not? It had drastically changed all their lives.

Obviously Tatsuki had been affected the most. But it wasn't something she was willing to discuss, at any rate. Chad was just glad she didn't seem to hold a grudge against Ichigo - or any of them for that matter. He wouldn't blame her at all if she did. But she had always been family, and they were all grateful it had stayed that way.

Looking at his redheaded master now, as he sat before the fire with the young lady's hand between his, Chad could see the changes that were coming over him. He looked like he was concentrating, trying very hard not to hurt her with his hands as he massaged her fingers. This was the first person Chad could remember Ichigo being this gentle with. Even his sisters didn't see this much consideration from him. It wasn't that he didn't love them just as much; he loved them so much that he would rather leave them than put them in any danger from his affliction. But this was different from that kind of love.

There was something different in his manner of speaking, in how he behaved in front of this girl. He was usually gruff and sharp, but with this girl it was softened. He was gentle and protective and actually courteous for once in his life. Chad actually wondered with a bit of awe if there might be a new addition to their family soon.

"Come on," Tatsuki nudged him finally, "If we don't get Nemu to start dinner soon, Orihime'll die of starvation." Chad simply nodded before following Tatsuki out of the room. For once, it felt like it'd be safe to leave Ichigo alone with the girl.


Several hundred miles to the south and west, moonlight filtered into the rooms of a well-furnished urban residence. The pale light cast shadows over the large living space resplendent with rich furnishings, the heavy draperies, and ornate, inlaid furniture. But the heart of the residence lay far below that presentable facade.

Beneath the elegant front, below street level, were brick tunnels and shadowy basements. Tight corridors lit only by dim torches wound through the foundations of the building. Rats scurried in the shadows, but weren't quite foolish enough to approach the residents of these ancient catacombs. A sound like the soft beating of wings resounded through the tunnels, torches flickering in the wake of the changes in air pressure.

Those flickering shadows pressed deeper into the dark, tight tunnels, sending rats and spiders scurrying in their wake. At their center was a sleek little black bat, the soft white patch of fur on its belly and the leather of its wings blending into the darkness as it flew. It turned this way and that, curving through the corridors towards its goal. It was close now, nearing the heart of the tombs, passing coffins and candelabras.

Finally, the small creature's destination was in sight: a large, stone entrance way set into the musty brick and clay walls. The Byzantine arch framed a heavy wooden door that flew inward at the bat's approach, as though its tiny wings themselves had blown it open.

Inside the large room, bookshelves yawned with heavy tomes while half-burnt candles dripped wax on the parchment beneath them. Paintings of a man and his family lined the walls, as well as maps and charts of the human body. A few beakers of smoldering, oddly-colored liquid perked along one shelf, giving the musty room a smell something like a cross between a library and an alchemist's lab.

The bat flew right to the middle of the room, extinguishing several candles as it passed. It hovered quietly for a few moments before its body began to elongate, the tiny patch of silvery white fur growing to cover its entire body, pushing the black to the shadows and edges of its frame. In another few seconds, no bat was there at all; instead, there was a tall, slender, elegant man in its place.

He stood straight, his face stern as firelight glinted off his monocle. His clothes were impeccable, crisp and white, even after his long, arduous journey from the snowy hills up north. His wings had elongated out into an ankle-length cape, and he now carried a fashionable walking stick in one white-gloved hand. This man was dressed to kill.

Meanwhile, at the far end of the room sat a man dressed completely in shades of black and red. He had turned when the bat had entered to face him, and now sat waiting for him to speak. One leg was lazily crossed at the knee and one hand propped his jaw up as his elbow rested on his desk. By contrast of his guest, this man was not nearly as neat. His clothes were rumpled from wear and from his own desire for comfort, his stubble was untrimmed, and his hair was messy. Still, there was a distinct liveliness in his manner and twinkling in his eyes that bespoke a certain youthfulness and energy that the other man did not have.

"Well?" the man at the desk finally asked, a smirk teasing the corners of his mouth.

"The correspondence was correct," said the white-haired man as he flicked some imaginary dust from his shoulder, "There is indeed a girl there." At this confirmation, the black-haired man's twinkling eyes shone.

"Well, go on!" he exclaimed, "What is she like? Is she pretty? How is her personality?" His white counterpart snorted.

"In a word? Clumsy," he began imperiously, "They have Miss Arisawa looking after her." The black-haired man flinched. It did not go unnoticed by his guest, but he continued anyway.

"Her manners are atrocious," he went on, "She talks to herself day and night, and she cleans as though she's a servant." The man receiving the report looked absolutely crestfallen.

"Is she at least decent-looking?" he asked, his voice betraying some misery. His companion rolled his eyes.

"Yes, yes," he sighed, removing his monocle and cleaning it on his lace cravat, "She's fairly attractive. Not my type at all, though." At this, it was his companion's turn to snort; in this case, however, it was a barely-suppressed chuckle.

"She doesn't have to be your type, old man!" he cried gleefully, rising and patting the white-haired man on the back hard enough to knock the wind out of him, "As long as she's Ichigo's!" His guest simply glared at him.

"I certainly don't understand what he sees in her," he said with a wheeze, "And he barely sees her, anyway. It's like there's hardly any relationship there at all." The black-haired man's eyes turned shrewd at this revelation.

"That's certainly interesting," he murmured, "His letter sounded as though they were madly in love and about to elope." The tone of his voice suggested he didn't believe what he'd just said any more than the white-clad man before him did.

"I can assure you that is most definitely not the case," said he, diverting his attention to his ivory walking stick, "He mostly has his servants handle her." His voice almost sounded bored, but his companion was quite clearly growing quickly agitated.

"If he intends to marry her anyhow," he said slowly, "I'll understand. But the fact that he lied about their relationship..."

"It's heavily suspicious," the white-haired man finished for him. He met his companion's keen, dark eyes.

"Exactly," the black-haired man confirmed before pacing over to the doorway of his study. Upon reaching it, he stopped and turned to his servant.

"Send two envoys," said he, "One to the Kuchiki clan and the other to St. Peter's in Vienna. I want them to accompany us when we set out next week." The white-haired man's expression did not change, but a glimmer of recognition flitted across his face.

"And you, Kurosaki?" he asked, not yet moving. The Marquis Kurosaki threw his servant a devil-may-care grin over his shoulder as he waved.

"Me?" he parroted, "I'm going to make travel arrangements for all of us."
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Crystal Dawn

February 2012


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